Chris Eaton left his parents' home in his patched up Vauxhall Astra yesterday morning, strung his own tennis racket and prepared for his seventh match of his year's Wimbledon; one which no one gave him – a player ranked 661st in the world – the faintest hope of winning.
A piece of duct tape was still keeping his Astra's wing mirror together last night, but Eaton, who won three pre-qualifying ties and another three in qualifying just to make round one proper, was being hailed as the new find in British men's tennis after an astonishing straight-sets win over Serbian No 3 Boris Pashanski.
The LTA has been well aware of the power of the Eaton serve, as he has processed around the outposts of men's tennis – most recently Uzbekistan – on the Futures circuit. But Pashanski, ranked 55 in the year at his peak, could not have anticipated the Englishman unleashing 26 aces on his way to a 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 win. He delivered 40 in one of those qualifying games which delivered him to No 3 Court and the weapon was at its most potent as Eaton closed in on victory.
The 20-year-old, who lives with his parents and whose career earnings did not match the £27,000 he collected by reaching the second round, served four aces in a row in the decisive game which took him to 5-4 in the third set and set up the chance to finish off the Serb. The result makes him the lowest-ranked player, by Wimbledon's own rankings, since records began 10 years ago to make it past the first round, a more than memorable conclusion to a day when Anne Keothavong, the first British woman for nine years to make the first round out of right as a top 100 player, also progressed.
Stringing his own racket, Eaton revealed later, is just part of his playing routine. "We have a machine [to do it] at the National Tennis Centre," he said. "I thought I may as well do it myself then I know exactly what I'm getting."
But the feverish atmosphere on No 3 Court, where Eaton began work as Andy Murray was completing his, was something new. Uzbekistan is "dead" by comparison, he admitted. "Playing on the Futures circuit is very hard. There's no glamour. There's nothing. You've just got to get out there, motivate yourself. There's no atmosphere. Hopefully, you end up here." Eaton did so by virtue of the wild card he was handed for the qualifying tournament by reaching the pre-qualifying semi-finals.
This shock first seemed on when a 128mph ace took the 20-year-old into the second set tie-break which, after conceding an early mini-break, he won 8-6. Then the Serb, known for his hot temper, was distracted by a side line call on one Eaton serve. "I knew he was a little prone to having a go at umpires and stuff," Eaton said. "I just let him do his thing." He can expect more of the same from his second round opponent, Dmitry Tursanov.
Eaton's compatriot Jamie Baker could not match him, tumbling out 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in another evening match with Italy's Stefano Galvini. But Keothavong has a probable Centre Court debut on her hands against Venus Williams after her excellent 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 win against Vania King, ranked 92. Katie O'Brien so nearly replicated that performance but threw away a 5-0 second set lead to be beaten 6-3, 7-5 to the 24th seed Shahar Peer.Reuse content